I was a pastor for fourteen years. My closest friends are pastors. I’m delighted that Rick Warren asked me to talk to pastors about Heaven.
Since my mother and father and several close friends died years ago, I’ve read over 150 books on Heaven, most of them long out of print. I’ve reached a conclusion: Satan has pulled a fast one on us! Even in our churches, our people have bought into the Platonic, unearthly and inhuman “float in the clouds with mind-numbing boredom” view of Heaven.
Peter said, “In keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness” (2 Peter 3:13). Yet, many Christians today are not looking forward to their eternal home.
Our thoughts about eternity rarely match the biblical portrayals of a New Earth: a restored planet in a renewed universe, a vast country with a great capital city made with precious stones, having specific dimensions, and containing trees, rivers, and resurrected people traveling in and out of the gates, engaged in meaningful relationships and productive activity (Revelation 21-22).
Our ungrounded assumption that Heaven won’t be a real physical place blinds us to what Scripture actually says.
Genesis 1-2 tells us that our God-given purpose is to rule the earth, using our God-given creativity as His image-bearers. This includes developing business, technology, art, music, sports and countless other aspects of righteous God-honoring culture.
“That may have been God’s original intention,” people think, “but now it’s never going to happen.” Satan cons us into believing he thwarted God’s purpose for righteous mankind to rule the earth.
But in fact, God never gave up His plan for us OR for earth. “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth...Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God” (Revelation 21:1,3).
This passage says three times that rather than us going up to live in an angelic realm forever, God will come down to live with us in our home forever. Jesus is the eternally-incarnate Immanuel. The ultimate Heaven is not “us with God” in his place, but “God with us” in our place: Earth.
God’s plan is to dwell with his people in a physical realm, bringing Heaven to Earth. He will “bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ” (Ephesians 1:10).
Romans 8:18-23 is emphatic that Christ’s redemptive work will rescue not only us, but His creation that fell under us, which groans for the deliverance that will come with our resurrection.
The Bible’s last two chapters show that we’ll experience God’s plan stated in the first two chapters. We will “reign for ever and ever” on the New Earth (Revelation 22:5). As resurrected beings we will steward a resurrected earth, with animals, culture, buildings, water, trees, fruit, eating and drinking, etc.
As kings and queens under the King of Kings, we’ll never exhaust the wonders of a universe created by our infinitely fascinating God. We’ll never run out of things to do! On the New Earth, “God’s servants will serve him” (Revelation 22:3). Serve is a verb. Servants are active, with things to do, places to go and people to see.
Has anyone ever said to you, “Pastor, I want to be a ghost”? The resurrected Jesus reassured his fearful disciples, “Touch me, I’m not a ghost.” Yet often Christians picture an afterlife in which we become ghosts—the very things his disciples feared, and Jesus promised he wasn’t.
Eastern religions portray the afterlife as disembodied and intangible. Christianity, centered in the resurrection, specifically refutes this notion.
Trying to develop an appetite for a disembodied existence in a non-physical Heaven is like trying to develop an appetite for gravel. It’s not going to work.
What God makes us desire is exactly what He promises: the resurrected life in a resurrected body, with the resurrected Christ on a resurrected earth.
God’s central plan hasn’t changed—a physical and spiritual humanity delighting in God and serving Him together as we rule the Earth to His glory.
The creeds state, “I believe in the resurrection of the body.” Yet polls indicate that of Americans believing in a resurrection, two-thirds believe they will not have bodies after the resurrection. But the whole point of resurrection is that we will have bodies!
Pastors, we owe it to our Lord and our people to teach them what resurrection means. Resurrection is in our doctrinal statements but not always in our heads and hearts. Our people just don’t get it. Some would die before denying the resurrection—but they don’t understand that the resurrection means they will live forever as physical beings in a physical universe!
We’ve managed to overlook an entire biblical vocabulary that makes it clear God hasn’t abandoned his original purpose. Reconcile. Redeem. Restore. Recover. Return. Renew. Regenerate. Resurrect. Each of these biblical words begins with the re- prefix, indicating a return to an original condition that was ruined or lost. Jesus the Carpenter doesn’t just create, He repairs his damaged creation.
Consider how our misguided view of Heaven thwarts our joy and undermines our evangelism. Why would we want to share Christ so that others too can spend eternity in a boring ghostly place?
Ironically, we try to get our people to share the good news, when they aren’t convinced going to Heaven really is good news!
Brothers in ministry, you have a great opportunity to correct these pervasive misconceptions about heaven. God can use you to transform your people’s views of Heaven. In doing so, you’ll infuse them with joy, and give them a powerful new motive “to live holy and godly lives” (2 Peter 3:11-14).
Think of it. We’ll walk the New Earth together. Delivered from sin, death and curse, we will forever worship, work, rest, learn, laugh, feast and celebrate, for God’s glory and our good. What incredible adventures await us!
Meanwhile, let’s spread the good news that we were made for a person and a place. Jesus is the person. Heaven is the place.
For resources pastors can use to preach on and guide their people in the study of Heaven, see Heaven Resources for Pastors. The online study, messages, PowerPoint, discussion materials and articles are all free, as is a 26 minute DVD in which Randy Alcorn speaks to pastors about Heaven. We invite you to take advantage of these resources.